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Mummy Movie at Local Library

February 18, 2009

Mummies, messages engage audiences in local film series
By Jesse Wright
As Published in the Oxford Town

The name Dr. Joseph Whemple is notorious to those familiar with mummies and their curses. It was Whemple who brought Imhotep back to life in 1932 in “The Mummy.” It was the first in a long line of screen mummies — most of whom seemed intent on terrorizing pretty girls.

The film opens in 1921 as Whemple leads a team of British archaeologists on a field expedition in Egypt. They find the tomb of Imhotep, a high priest buried alive 3,000 years ago and whose tomb is protected by a curse…

Whemple: [reading inscription] “Death … eternal punishment … for … anyone … who … opens … this … casket. In the name … of Amon-Ra … the king of the gods.” Good heavens, what a terrible curse!

The curse is, of course, ignored and the tomb is opened and Imhotep comes to life and … well, the love story unfolds.

Fun stuff and a classic movie, but is it educational? Dr. Vernon Chadwick says it is and on  Tuesday explained how and why.

Chadwick, a former professor of literature, screens films at the Oxford Public Library every other Tuesday where he makes connections, draws conclusions and explains the relevance of films like “The Mummy.” “The Mummy” will be the fourth film this season in his World Film Series. This season Chadwick tackles ancient history through 13 films – from “One Million Years B.C.” to “Fall of the Roman Empire,” each with its own message.

Inspired by the 1922 Howard Carter discovery of King Tutankhamen, “The Mummy” reveals as much about the early 20th Century interest in Egyptology as it does about burial rites in ancient Egypt. Yet historical insights aside, Chadwick believes there is often modern relevance to these films and that relevance is the real raison d’être of the series. Look at Fall of the Roman Empire. Any parallels to modern America there? Chadwick believes there are, but he’s open to debate.

“(The series) is partly just to try to nudge people from the comforts of their home to a community event that, to me, promotes social discussion, which is important,” he said. It’s a social event but it’s also a chance to see classic films and some obscure gems on a large screen – with snacks.

“I want to entertain as well as enlighten, to use the MPB slogan,” he said.

Chadwick argues that, if viewed in a serious context, it can give an audience a feel for ancient history. Besides, looking at the films as history brings insight into the films, too.

Many of the films – especially the older ones like “The Mummy,” have been seen only as remakes (e.g. the 1999 Brendan Fraser version) or on late night television. Rarely have audiences actually engaged the film so rarely have audiences actually seen the film.

“Part of my task is introducing a new way to look at these films,” Chadwick said.

Too often in popular culture Chadwick said these films have been replaced by “futuristic epics like ‘Star Wars’.” Often these films owe a debt to earlier movies, though it’s a debt largely unknown today.

By way of example Chadwick points to Fall of the Roman Empire wherein Alec Guinness plays a proto Obi-Wan Kenobi.

“Through these science fiction movies we have created a generation that knows more about the future than the past,” he said. By watching movies like “The Mummy,” Chadwick is doing what he can to remind audiences what came before, both in cinematic and world history.

Join Chadwick on March 3 at 6 p.m. at the Oxford Public Library.

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